I chose not to write about Manchester United as long as Ole was in charge. There is just too much turmoil putting text to how we fans are living through the tumultuous performances in the last two months.
But there was an eerie calmness about this performance. It was as though United new that all they had to do was turn on the engine, put in first gear and begin the game. They refused to shift to a second gear. Organized, keeping a shape, all 11 behind the ball for most spells of the first half, Villareal enjoyed nearly 70% possession in the first 15-20 minutes. Return of Martial and Van de Beek is crucial.
Martial brings ice-cold calmness to the pitch with his ease on the ball and his distribution. As a player, he is far superior to a lot of them in that team and his attributes worry defenders. Van de beek was focused, stuck to his job, did a shift.
Scott Mc Tominay eased into the game. Fred gave his usual performance. Since Martial and Sancho were tucked in for most of the first half, the only way Villareal could get through to their midfield was with medium to long range passes. They did create the odd chances and when confronted, United did look shaky. Understandably with the poor run of form and the lack of clean sheets, the likes of Maguire were pretty tentative in keeping ball in possession.
It was more of United being happy to not have possession or have to play to create anything. I think Carrick got it spot on with dropping Rashford and Bruno. These are two players who are good flair attacking, but do not give as much in defense as Van de Beek and Martial.
Getting to half-time without conceding is a massive up on a European night. That made Carrick’s half-time talk easier. More of the same, and then we switch things with half hour to go.
He brought back the flair through Bruno and Rashford. Rashford’s arrival made Emery wary of his pace and as a result Villareal stepped back a bit. United pounced on this opportunity with a press and that yielded the opportunity for Ronaldo.
Sancho worked tirelessly and rarely played 90 minutes in a position that he was supposed to settle into right from the beginning of the season. Shaw’s concussion injury and Greenwood’s COVID made decisions easier for Carrick. By winning this big game and with a game in hand, United comfortably move into the knockout stages of the Champions League.
The organization, the commitment and the quality was there for all to see today as United went out with a plan to not concede and press for a late winner if the opportunity rose. I later on watched around 60 minutes of the game between Chelsea and Juventus. Seeing the scoreline, United should be worried of how Chelsea overpowered Juventus, but the fact is we do not have enough quality to play like Juventus, nor do we press like them. I expect us to make Chelsea earn their win this coming weekend.